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Fine Just the Way it Is - Annie Proulx I love volume one of her Wyoming stories almost this much but not quite, because of Them Old Cowboy Songs, perhaps the sweetest short story I know. It is the love story of newlywed pioneers Archie and Rose, who in 1885 staked out a homestead where the Little Weed comes rattling down from the Sierra Madre, water named not for miniature and obnoxious flora but for P.H. Weed, a gold seeker who had starved near its source.

I say sweetest not because there's a thing sentimental about it, though much is dear, as when a drink of water or a deep kiss becomes precious as gold and saves you. The foreboding of the bit about "starving near the source" sets the tone, and the telling that follows is like music perfectly played, fitting for a story in which the leading man, Archie, had a singing voice that once heard was never forgotten . . . sad and flat and without ornamentation, it expressed things felt but unsayable.

It seems much of what Proulx says so well in this story should be unsayable, but in lone words and the composition entire she nails it, pitch perfect, whether the result is laughter or tears or disgust, and I experienced all inside of 35 pages. The romance especially charmed.

One summer evening, their bed spread on the floor among the chips and splinters in the half-finished cabin, they fell to kissing. Rose, in some kind of transport began to bite her kisses, lickings and sharp nips along his neck, shoulder, in the musky crevice between his arm and torso, his nipples, until she felt him shaking and looked up to see his eyes closed, tears in his lashes, face contorted in a grimace. "Oh, Archie, I didn't mean to hurt . . ." "You did not," he groaned. "It's. I ain't never been. Loved. I just can't hardly stand it." And he began to blubber "feel like I been shot," pulling her into his arms . . .

Moments of bliss being all the more dear amidst the unrelenting hardships, but I'll give nothing else away.

The other stories in this and the first volume are damn near as good and involving, such that the transition from her Wyoming lives back to my own never occurred without pause and stumbling and the hope of returning.

volume 1, Close Range: http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/169940758
volume 2, Bad Dirt: http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/619273482